Sales is probably the most important function of any business, because it is the front end of the company and generates revenue, which is the raison d’être of any commercial activity.
Sales is probably the most important function of any business, because it is the front end of the company and generates revenue, which is the raison d’être of any commercial activity. There have been several books written on selling and, hence, it is a well-researched and documented activity. Subroto Bagchi adds another book to the category, but one with a difference in terms of the narrative. He looks at selling as a proportional combination of art, science and witchcraft, and gives examples along the way to show how these tags fit in with this act.
Bagchi may not be saying anything new, but he introduces the concept with a real-life story that shows how the particular trait works. Right from identifying potential customers to reading the counter party’s intent, he takes us through myriad aspects of selling successfully. Those in sales would be able to identify with situations that have been quoted, as these are everyday instances of how people buy and sell goods and services.
Some of the key takeaways are that to begin with, one should identify with the product one is selling and believe in it. Further, one has to respect the potential customer and always look at things from their perspective. He draws a comparison between two words that look the same, but are different—‘persuade’ and ‘convince’. The former is the clue to successful selling, as it looks at the issue from the other person’s point of view. This leads to the concept of respect that builds up between two parties once there is recognition of trust, and Bagchi gives several examples of how this has worked for several people and companies.
There are some interesting insights that he provides on identifying real customers and this is interesting, because one could be spending a large proportion of time and energy on following customers who will never buy because there is little desire to do so. He categorises them as ‘great givers of homework’ (who will keep asking you for various variations and patterns with no intention of buying), ‘patron saints’ (who have no power of deciding but are always on your side), ‘permanent prospects’ (who keep the conversation on, but will never close the deal) and the ‘poor Brahmin’ (who wants to buy, but does not have the funds to see the deal through). Therefore, one has to sieve through the clutter to ensure that one does not move in the wrong direction.
On making sales presentations, too, Bagchi offers advice that should reverberate within organisations. He says presentations should be made from the perspective of the client. This increases interest rather than just sell an idea where the potential buyer would need to think further. By talking of the product from the point of view of the buyer, there is a buy-in created before the discussion starts. This is a good tip that the salesforce should keep in mind.
There is, of course, the usual inspirational stuff like ‘never giving up’, ‘not taking no for an answer’, preparing for the pitch, not losing sight of purpose, etc. But one thing that will catch your attention is the strategy part, which is good to pass on to salespeople.
Here, he has an interesting theory called the ‘arctic ice’, which actually is quite practical, as it highlights that anything you put forward to a potential customer could go through several layers of scrutiny before a decision is taken. These are vendor selection experts, buyers of the product in the company, external experts or consultants, influencers, detractors, coaches, competition and lawyers. All of them would have a point of view that’s not personal, but has to be addressed by the sales team and, hence, strategising is very crucial.
This is a nice book to read, as almost every chapter has something to tell us. Almost all companies can relate to these principles, as they hold lessons for selling goods or services and are agnostic to whether the seller is a big company or a small one. The fact that the counter party changes, as does the management, means that one can’t take established relations for granted even when dealing with large firms, as policies and approaches change with regimes. Hence, every sales pitch should be well-crafted, keeping all possibilities open.
Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratings